In the early days of December, my husband and I attended what I can only describe here as the most exquisite and beautifully garnished holiday gathering we’d ever attended in our adult lives.
Our host’s home, transformed into a veritable winter wonderland, was drenched in twinkle lights, glittering bannisters, dazzling flocked trees and poinsettias in every corner – the kind of décor one generally finds on the shiny pages of holiday-inspired magazines or in upscale hotel lobbies.
And don’t even get me started on the piano player, a charming man named Heyner.
Even more astounding was the abundance of genuine warmth and hospitality, a welcoming invitation to everyone present to make themselves at home, let down their hair, exchange ease of conversation, laugh, listen, all the while enjoying a perfectly divine evening of “friends celebrating friends.”
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Champagne and appetizers, wine pairings with each course, fresh blooms and favors – all so breathtaking I found myself a little nervous (if not intimidated) in disrupting the half-cotton, half-satin napkin and placing it across my lap.
But when good friends gather, there is comfort and joy, and so as salad was served, I happily lifted my fork and savored every delicious bite thereafter.
When this column goes to print, a very different scenario will be taking place under the roof at the Bacon residence. A house full of relatives will have converged including the newest set of twins sprouted from the branches of our family tree.
Lennox and Isla, identical twin girls born to my niece last fall, will be our youngest house guests ever, which translates to highchairs and strollers, “blankies” and Cheerios, formula and diapers scattered about everywhere.
But this year I’m in an “oh, well,” “so what,” “who cares” kind of mood. The sheer magic of their arrival trumps the paraphernalia invasion as does the realization that three sets of doubles will surround our holiday table – a true “wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles,” as the song lyrics say.
With any luck, my dear mother will be sitting at the helm, admiring her flock, feeling feisty once again following a troublesome bout of mysterious symptoms that have plagued, crazed and compromised her health since early September (I will save that story for another time, another column).
But because babies are universally good medicine, I am convinced that after five minutes of hugging and kissing the darling duo she’ll be running circles around all of us – taking over my kitchen, relishing her role as matriarch, and whispering preferences for the 90th birthday party being planned in her honor.
There will be chaos floor to ceiling, morning till night, including cranky babies, antsy toddlers, restless preteens negotiating iPad games and instigating parental warfare.
Dan and I will attempt to synchronize the carving of the turkey with whatever else is baking in the oven hoping to also squeeze in one family photo taken before dinner. If history is a trend indicator, neither will happen according to plans and invariably, someone will have a meltdown.
But it won’t be me.
Because this year I refuse to see the mess. Instead, I will celebrate the chaos and ignore what doesn’t matter. The pilaf can be soggy, the salad overdressed, the turkey dry, and even the kids can be naughty.
This year I will see only handmade ornaments, the love fest between cousins, and our growing family united by culture and tradition. I will take special note of the grandchild helping my mom with her walker, the first child rising without prodding to help clear dirty dishes, and discovering a handwritten love note one of the grandkids secretly stashes near my nightstand.
And yes, the mess will wait.
Because this year everything is at stake.
The safety of our country.
My mother’s health.
My grandkids’ future.
Weeks from now I will find dried granules of rice pilaf scattered like ants in the crevices of my dining room floor. Leaning down to pick them up, I will holler to Dan to bring the vacuum and I will think to myself how lucky I am to be alive to have such a moment.
As I sign off until 2016 when each of us gets to start this fascinating dance of life all over again, I realize there will be good days and bad days ahead, stresses and strains, dips and turns.
Here’s wishing us all a year to gather our senses while also gathering ourselves more often with family and friends – knowing full well that the only way we’ll survive is by holding on for dear life, and then holding on to each other.
Armen D. Bacon is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and a collection of essays called “My Name is Armen.”